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Saturday, November 19, 2005

Vine Deloria

When I heard that Vine Deloria had passed, I felt not only sadness but a deeply physical sense that his death is yet another bellwether of the end. Oh sure, there are all those people in their academic shrouds who insist that there are so, so many others to carry on and that there's life, the Indian People are Survivors and They Will Survive. But there aren't and they won't.

This is the sad truth of Indian Country. It is something I came to terms with years ago --- all the chest thumping in the world cannot and will not erase hundreds of years of oppression and devastation.

It's probably not a coincidence that the day after Deloria's death, I sat with several Indian women listening to their tales of meth use and child abuse and molestation and prison and commitment to psychiatric hospitals. I looked into their black eyes and wondered if they would ever come to see that the circumstances of their lives signal that the process of colonization is nearly complete --- and that, without a miracle, the only possible outcome of this process is the complete destruction and assimilation of all Indian peoples. It's an intentional outcome neatly foreseen over 200 years ago. It mirrors the fragmentation and chaos of Africa, and is no different, except that Indians have been spatially and intellectually confined to small areas of land, which means the larger society can deny the reality and mythologize them for their own convenience. Not a one really wants to know.

I remember when I was still all hope and determination about it all --- I remember a young girl in a community I was working with who had clear signs of fetal alcohol syndrome, as did her mother. And I remember how furiously I denied this to myself, just as I denied the significance when I was told about the 15 year old pregnant at the same time as her mother and by the same man. Just as I denied the significance of being jumped by a men in the community I worked in --- and all of his sisters didn't bat an eye when they saw because this is just the way it is.

On the outside, everyone talks about the honor and the traditions and the deep faith and the courage of the Indian peoples, their spiritual fortitude, their complex and subtle beliefs, their connection to Mother Earth. But these people don't see the elders living back in the woods in delapidated trailer homes with rotting floors and peeling roofs, forced to cohabit with drugged children and grandchildren because there is no one else to care for them. They don't hear the stories of 75 year olds freezing to death in winter because they fell when they went out at 3 a.m. to get more wood for the stove. They don't see the seven year olds living on Snickers and wandering around without shoes because their father is who knows where and their mother is drugged up. They don't sit in line at the grocery behind Indian families and see carts full of exactly the foods which will kill them with deadly precision.

They know nothing of the corruption and ineptitude of tribal governments which are nothing more than the final hammers, instruments of the United States government which will insure that, in 50 years time, there will be no more Indians --- there will only be people pretending to be Indians and perpetuating the mythologies.

Vine was such a bright spot. I remember sitting in archaeology and physical anthropology courses, watching smoke spitting out of the ears of my professors and fellow students. He really pissed them off. They couldn't see the contradictions and gaps in their philosophies, yet accused accused and accused again Vine of their very own sins. The more they hated him, the more I loved him.

I remember sitting in an office with a Native professor as she told me about something she was writing with Vine --- how the spread of Judeo-Christian traditions intentionally created the false divisions between space and time, and how the medicine men go to that place to do their work.

I remember the sheer intellectual excitement of his work, the sense of recognition when I first read him so many years ago.

And there is no one to replace him.

And I wish that I could see a sign for him. Bob Thomas' son wrote of his father's passing, describing driving his body frm Oklahoma to Arizona and how in the last hours of their journey, the clan animals could be seen running alongside their car to take his father home. I sat once at a stomp dance and heard someone next to me mention that the ground's chief had been in the hospital. I remember looking up and seeing him dancing around the fire and thinking to myself what a tough guy he was and how much he must love his stomp grounds to be there so soon after his deadly illness. It was only two days later I was told he had died in the hospital about the time I saw him.

This is the reality of the Indian people. This is what the Westerners must kill.

And now Vine has been enfolded by it. I hope that his journey has been a good one.

2 Comments:

At 10:22 AM, Blogger MJ said...

The people had been taught to despise themselves because they were left with barren land and dry rivers. But they were wrong. It was the white people who had nothing; it was the white people who were suffering as thieves do, never able to forget that their prode was wrapped in something stolen, something that had never been, and could never be, theirs. The destroyers had tricked the white people as completely as they had fooled the Indians, and now only a few people understood how the filthy deception worked; only a few people knew that the lie was destroying the white people faster than it was destroying Indian people. But the effects were hidden, evident only in the sterility of their art, which continued to feed off the vitality of other cultures, and in the dissolution of their consciousness into dead objects: the plastic and neon, the concrete and steel. Hollow and lifeless as a witchery clay figure. And what little still remained to white people was shriveled like a seed hoarded too long, shrunken past its time, and split open now, to expose a fragile, pale leaf stem, perfectly formed and dead. - Leslie Marmon Silko, Ceremony

We have to believe in the power of the imagination because it's all we have, and ours is stronger than theirs. - Sherman Alexie, The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven

Fear of death is a control mechanism of Christianity, but there are things worse than death, eh?

 
At 11:11 AM, Blogger Cookie said...

Yes, there are things worse than death.

Silko is amazing, isn't she? I just keep reading over that passage --- wow. She's simply brilliant.

 

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